US leader ‘approved’ camps in China holding million Muslims, former top aide claims in book president is attempting to ban
US President Donald Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 election, according to a damning new account of life inside the administration by former national security adviser John Bolton.
During a one-on-one meeting at the June 2019 Group of 20 summit in Japan, Mr Xi complained to Mr Trump about critics of China in the United States.
But Mr Bolton writes in a book scheduled to be released next week that "Trump immediately assumed Xi meant the Democrats. Trump said approvingly that there was great hostility among the Democrats.
"He then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming presidential election, alluding to China's economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he'd win.
"He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump's exact words but the government's prepublication review process has decided otherwise."
At the same meeting, Mr Xi also defended China's construction of camps housing as many as one million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang - and Mr Trump signalled his approval.
"According to our interpreter," Mr Bolton writes, "Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do."
The episode described by Mr Bolton in his book 'The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir', bears striking similarities to the actions that resulted in Mr Trump's impeachment after he sought to pressure the Ukrainian president to help dig up dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden in exchange for military assistance.
The China allegation also comes amid ongoing warnings from US intelligence agencies about foreign election interference in November, as Russia did to help Mr Trump in 2016.
And on the Ukraine scandal itself, Mr Bolton cites personal conversations with Mr Trump confirming a "quid pro quo" Mr Trump had long denied, including an August meeting in which Mr Trump allegedly made the bargain explicit.
"He said he wasn't in favour of sending them anything until all Russia-investigation material related to [Hillary] Clinton and Biden had been turned over," Mr Bolton writes.
The 592-page memoir, obtained by 'The Washington Post', is the most substantive, critical dissection of the president from an administration insider.
It portrays Mr Trump as an "erratic" and "stunningly uninformed" commander in chief, and lays out a long series of jarring and troubling encounters between the president, his top advisers and foreign leaders.
The book is the subject of an escalating legal battle between the long-time conservative foreign policy aide and the Justice Department, which is seeking to block its publication by alleging that it contains classified material.
Mr Bolton's lawyer has said the book does not contain classified material and it underwent an arduous review process.
He describes the book as being based on contemporaneous accounts and his own notes, and it includes numerous details of internal meetings and direct quotations attributed to Mr Trump and others.
The request for electoral assistance from Mr Xi is one of many instances described by Mr Bolton in which Trump seeks favours or approval from authoritarian leaders.
Many were also happy to take advantage of the US president and attempt to manipulate him, Mr Bolton writes, often through simplistic appeals to his various obsessions.
In May 2018, Mr Bolton writes, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan handed Mr Trump a memo claiming innocence for a Turkish firm under investigation by the US attorney for the Southern District of New York for violating Iranian sanctions.
"Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people, but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people," Mr Bolton writes.
He was so alarmed by Mr Trump's determination to do favours for autocrats that he scheduled a meeting with Attorney General William Barr in 2019 to discuss his behaviour.
Mr Bolton writes that Mr Barr agreed he also was worried about the appearances created by the president's behaviour.
Mr Bolton broadly confirms the outline of the impeachment case laid out by Democratic politicians and witnesses in House proceedings earlier this year, writing Mr Trump was fixated on a bogus claim Ukraine tried to hurt him and was in thrall to unfounded conspiracy theories pushed by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others.
Mr Bolton is silent on the question of whether he believes the president's actions related to Ukraine were impeachable and deeply critical of how House Democrats managed the process. But he writes he found Mr Trump's decision to hold up military assistance to pressure newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "deeply disturbing" and that he tried to work internally to counter it, reporting concerns to Mr Barr and the White House Counsel's Office.
"I thought the whole affair was bad policy, questionable legally and unacceptable as presidential behaviour," he writes.
Mr Bolton describes the president's advisers as frequently flummoxed by Mr Trump and said a range of officials - including Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr Bolton himself - all considered resigning in disgust or frustration. Even some of the president's most loyal advisers hold a grim view of him in private, he writes.
"What if we have a real crisis like 9/11 with the way he makes decisions?" Mr Kelly is quoted as asking at one point as he considers resigning.
"He second-guessed people's motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government," Mr Bolton writes, always looking to "personal instinct" and opportunities for "reality TV showmanship".
Given Mr Bolton's expertise and his role from 2018 to 2019, the book is heavily focused on a range of foreign policy episodes and decisions, from Ukraine and Venezuela to North Korea and Iran.
Mr Bolton recounts numerous private conversations Mr Trump had with other leaders that revealed the limits of his knowledge. He recalls him asking Mr Kelly if Finland is part of Russia. In a meeting with then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018, a British official referred to the UK as a "nuclear power", and Mr Trump interjects: "Oh, are you a nuclear power?"
Mr Bolton adds he could tell the question about the UK, which has long had a nuclear arsenal, "was not intended as a joke".
During a Nato summit in 2018, Mr Trump had decided to inform allies the US was going to withdraw if the allies didn't substantially increase defence spending.
During one trade meeting, Mr Trump grew irate when advisers begun discussing Japan and began railing about Pearl Harbour.
He also claims a 2019 meeting in New Jersey where Mr Trump says journalists should be jailed so they have to divulge their sources: "These people should be executed. They are scumbags."
Mr Bolton describes in depth the feuding among Mr Trump's cadre of advisers but seems to hold himself in high regard and admits few mistakes of his own.
He describes Mr Trump as callously unconcerned about human rights violations. He writes that during an opening dinner of the G20 meeting in Osaka in 2019 attended only by interpreters, Mr Xi explained to Mr Trump "why he was basically building concentration camps" in a northwestern Chinese province where the government has been interning Uighurs, an ethnic minority.
According to Mr Bolton, the US interpreter said Mr Trump spoke approvingly of the camps. And he also writes that he was told by Matt Pottinger, a National Security Council official hawkish on China, that Mr Trump had said something similar during a 2017 trip to China. (© Washington Post)